Jan 31 2013

BLOW UP! Advanced Photo Techniques for Large Prints

Published by at 8:52 am under TUTORIALS

Macro photography Trypocopris vernalis BLOW UP! Advanced Photo Techniques for Large PrintsYou’ve entered the sleek, simple, and dramatic of an oversized photograph as the central design feature in a room.

You see this motif everywhere, from fashion and interior design magazines to retail settings. At once, the large photo/minimalist room evokes drama, and sometimes mystery or suspense. Done well, it creates a mood that only a few interior designers can match by other means and modernists, bohemians, and creatives everywhere enjoy.

Who can say why, exactly? There is something so appealing between the contrast of a minimalism of a wall and the expressive punch of an artist’s photo print.

Yet, in this digital age, printing “large” doesn’t get a lot of discussion.

Printing extra-large prints isn’t something that a lot of people choose to do, and for good reason. It can be expensive and, as professional photographer Bill Wadman says, “It sounds obvious, but everything about your picture becomes magnified the bigger you print, the good as well as the bad.”

Wadman says that photographers who dare to scale their prints “up, up, and away” need to be grounded and focus on three things to avoid ruining a large print: “Technique, technique, and technique.”

Wadman hosts the popular photography podcast “On Taking Pictures,” along with co-host Jeffrey Saddoris of the photography blog Faded+Blurred. The show’s primary focus is discussing digital photography technique. As any artist will tell you, there is constant opportunity to practice, explore, and improve your craft.

Says Wadman, “If you plan to make large prints, you’ve got to be more vigilant about the details.” Specifically:

  • “Make sure your focus is accurate, and that you’ve stopped down the aperture enough to increase your depth of field” to ensure that you have everything you want in focus.
  • “Increase shutter speed if you can, in order to reduce camera shake,” he says, adding, “The 1 over the focal length rule is a very bare minimum here.”
  • “With modern DSLR cameras, don’t be scared to use 800 or 1,600 ISO if it means better shutter speed or aperture,” he says, adding, “Noise can be improved later, blur can’t.”

Less experienced photographers may wrongly assume that fundamental problems can be “fixed in post,” so to speak, using Photoshop or other digital imaging software. Yet, all photo adjustments are rendered more visible — and unintentionally noticeable — at a large scale. The manipulation you can get away with at Web resolution of 72 dpi is very different than something large enough for someone to closely inspect in real life.

Wadman suggests that, like the “10,000-hour rule” popularly espoused by Malcolm Gladwell, it takes repeated practice to shoot and select photos that will work well in a large format. “Taking technically proficient images that are good enough to be blown up is a methodical process, so take your time,” he advises.

If you’re determined to get started with large-scale prints, be sure to use a sturdy tripod. Also recommended are mirror lock-up and a self-timer — if you’re particularly anxious about potential disruption or image corruption.

“Sent the lab the largest file your camera puts out,” advises Wadman, “but don’t up-res to a bigger file. The software at the lab will do that better than you can, and in a way that’s matched to the printer for best results.”

In addition, he says, “Feel free to send the lab a .jpg file. Just make sure that the quality setting is high when you save it.” Wadman recommends the “8 out of 10″ or more setting. Do not convert the image to another file, like .pdf, as it may need to be reverted back by the printer. Opt for the native file output from your camera, whether it’s .jpg or “raw”.

“I’ve learned that some images look great large, but others don’t. Each photograph has its own natural size. Bigger isn’t always better,” says Wadman. 

Katie McCaskey is a business owner, author, marketing consultant, and freelance journalist who writes for Vistaprint, a leading provider of personalized calendars, mugs, t-shirts, and a huge range of customized gifts for any occasions.

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